Tuffy Stone and Myron Mixon star in TLC’s BBQ Pitmasters. Photo by Scott Gries/courtesy Destination America
If looking the part were all it took to make good smoked meat, Tuffy Stone would be chopped liver.
Sure, he's got a name — like Bubba or Tater; Tuffy's name is seemingly tailored to the gig. But Stone's skinny, sinewy frame, barely filling out a pair of unfaded blue jeans and muted yellow-plaid button-down shirt aren't likely to signal salutes from the ranks of America's barbecue fans who're more likely to expect an ample sauce-stained belly on their pit master.
But respect in this business begins and ends on a loaded paper plate — oh, and with a pile of accolades he's earned with his Cool Smoke team since entering the national competitive barbecue circuit in 2004 — by his own estimations, as a rank amateur.
Or maybe it's measured by television appearances — on such shows as TLC's BBQ Pitmasters and on the show's new network, Destination America (Comcast's channel 113 and Verizon FIOS' channel 168).
Not bad for a guy who trained as a French chef under Alain Vincey at Vincey's storied La Maisonette restaurant, only to later employ Vincey, a man who once was chef to French explorer Jacques Cousteau, at his own catering company, A Sharper Palate. Mastering the art of gourmet French or Italian or Thai cooking all were plenty challenging, says Stone, but "not one person in 20 years has said to me, ‘Tuffy, I like your gravlax, but it's not as good as mine.' Barbecue is a food that's full of these strange opinions."
And so Stone made a midcareer decision to learn the primal art of slow-cooking cheap cuts of meat with embers and smoke. But only barbecue is at once so humble and yet humbling in its complexity.
"I got a [barbecue] pit and some wood and some meat, and I screwed up a lot of meat," says Stone, eyes squinting through a smile and a set of thick-framed glasses, recounting his eventual self-schooled transformation into one of America's most recognized pit bosses.
Tuffy Stone's Award-Winning Ribs
(makes 2 racks of St. Louis-cut pork spareribs, about 3 pounds each)
1/2 cup of light brown sugar
1/4 cup of sweet paprika
1 tablespoon of chili powder
1 tablespoon of onion powder
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1 tablespoon of cayenne
1 tablespoon of kosher salt
1 tablespoon of ground black pepper
1/4 cup of canola oil
2 racks St. Louis-cut pork spare ribs (about 3 lb. each)
Mix the sugar, paprika, chili, onion and garlic powders, cayenne, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Brush the oil on ribs on a baking sheet and sprinkle liberally with the rub; allow to sit for 1 hour.
3 cups of ketchup
1 cup of dark brown sugar
3/4 cup of distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons of molasses
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon of chili powder
1 tablespoon of sweet paprika
1 teaspoon of onion powder
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup of honey
2 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup of apple juice
8 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup of light brown sugar
Whisk together the ketchup, sugar, vinegar, molasses, Worcestershire, chili powder, paprika, onion and garlic powders, cayenne, black pepper and 3/4 cup of water in a 4-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until thickened, for about 20 minutes.
Remove from the heat, and measure 1 cup of the mixture into a bowl. Stir in the apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup of the honey; set aside. (Reserve remaining starter sauce for another time.) Pour the apple juice into a spray bottle.
Put it all together
Prepare a kettle grill, smoker or gas grill using applewood chunks or chips. Place the ribs, meat-side up, on the grill grate. Maintaining a temperature of 225 to 275 degrees (if using a kettle grill or smoker, replenish the fire with unlit coals, as needed, to maintain the temperature), cook the ribs, spraying with the apple juice every 30 minutes or so, for 3 hours.
Remove the ribs from the grill and transfer to 2 large, heavy-duty, stacked sheets of foil. Drizzle the butter, remaining 1/4 cup of honey from the sauce recipe and brown sugar evenly over both sides of ribs. Position the ribs meat-side up and close the foil.
Return to the grill. After 2 hours, remove, uncover the ribs and discard the foil. Return the ribs to the grill and cook, basting with the sauce after about 30 minutes, until the tip of a small knife slips easily in and out of the meat, about 1 hour, or when the meat reaches an internal temperature of 195 to 200 degrees.